Passion, Opportunity, and Problem Solving

by Ross Jackson

An Interview with Wendy Eastland, Stage Manager

Wendy was born in Honduras and her family moved to the U.S. when she was two. She is from Cedar Hill, TX, about 30 minutes south of Dallas, TX. Though currently live in Dallas, TX, Wendy will soon be moving to Philadelphia, PA where she spent two years after graduating from college, establishing a sense of home. She is a stage manager for primarily straight plays and musicals so far. Wendy identifies as Hispanic. 

Stage-Directions: How has being as a person of color harmed and/or helped your career?

Wendy Eastland: Honestly, up until recently I didn’t think being a person of color was a factor that would help or harm my career. I’ve always thought it came down to experience, resume, networking, and recommendations, but I suppose organizations try to diversify their teams, so I’m sure being Hispanic has set me apart before. I can’t be sure if the jobs I’ve gotten have come down to my ethnicity. If some jobs have, I hope I’ve proved I am much more than that, and that they remember me for my skill and hard work as a stage manager.  

How has your race/ethnicity influenced your career journey?

I think it’s made me deeply appreciate that I have a career in theatre. My parents moved here because they wanted us (my siblings and I) to be able to pursue anything we wanted and I’m getting to do that. I studied theatre because I have a passion for it, not because I thought it was realistic to work in it. I also majored in advertising. You know, just in case. While I liked advertising, there was never a time I didn’t lean towards theatre. Then I figured out I could actually make a career out of it! I really do think it’s a privilege to be able to do this every day. While I know it wouldn’t have been completely impossible to do it in Honduras, I don’t think it would have panned out as how I make my living. I probably would have gone with a more “realistic” option. A safe one that meant status and financial security. People choose the safe option in the U.S. all the time as well, but when my parents immigrated to the U.S. and started a whole new life they came with hope that their kids could succeed in infinite ways. So, yes. I am humbled and grateful to get to pursue my passion.

Wendy taping out The Tempest in Dallas Theater Center

What would you like people of color considering - or in the early stages of - a theatre career to know?   

People will say things that might make you wince or do a double take and they may not even realize it’s not okay. You don’t have to leave it at a physical reaction. You can say something. Also, whether or not you are a person of color, if a situation feels like one in which you’re being taken advantage of (skill, knowledge, work ethic, etc.) speak up. It may feel awkward or scary, but I think we all know in our gut when we should make something known.

Who was a role model of yours in your respective field?

I’ve worked with great stage managers and have looked up to them, learned from them, and will go to them for advice, but I’ve never had one specific person I would call a role model.

What was it that helped formulate who you are as a person of color trying to express your art in a white-dominated field?

Time and experience. I’m still working on it.

We worked together recently on a production that began to incorporate a bilingual rehearsal room. Can you talk about the effects such an effort can have on a company?

I think it was a positive effect. Communicating to the company clearly and effectively is important in any rehearsal room. The bilingual room added assurance that everyone would be on the same page about new information. The company was not afraid to ask a question because they knew there were people in the room that could understand them.

Not all offenses come from overt action. Can you describe times in which you have experienced discrimination in your workplace that may not be overt, but still harmful?

I look younger than my age, so people will assume I’m an apprentice or treat me like I don’t have the capacity to lead. I once had someone ask me, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” I was 24. I found that question condescending.

I speak fluent English and Spanish. I grew up with both languages at the same time. I’ve had people say to me, “It’s amazing how you don’t have an accent when you go back and forth.” Do I need to have an accent? Is that the only way it would make sense that I can speak two languages well? [Situations like these] make me feel misunderstood or like I wasn’t doing something right somehow.

You mentioned that you have worked on straight plays and musicals. Have you found yet that you have a preference?

Both are fun. I like working through things in rehearsal, but musicals tend to be more fun to run because there are usually more moving parts. Literally and figuratively.

Wendy shares her love of stage managing with her love of dogs.Is there a type of production you haven’t done yet that you’d like to endeavor upon?

I would love to do dance some time! Any time I have the opportunity to work on something new, I take it.

We haven’t done a list in a bit. Can you give us five reasons you continue to stage manage?

  1. Always getting to work on something different. I feel like I grow as a stage manager because each show tells a different story and has its own challenges to figure out.
  2. I like working on a team. In theatre, you are rarely working on something on your own. At some point you look to someone to help with one thing or another. It’s a nice feeling to feel like an essential part of a process and even better when you get to work with a team that gets along well.
  3. I enjoy the problem solving that comes with stage management. There can be total chaos around you and suddenly someone looks to you for a solution or a decision and you have to be ready to make the call. It can be frightening and quite exhilarating. I can be a bit timid in such situations, so these moments are personal successes for me.
  4. I like watching the production come together from the view of stage management. As a stage manager you have to have some understanding of every element of the show. Whether it’s the fly system for safety, the ground plan for when a director has a question in the rehearsal room, or keeping up with the intention a director has given an actor to make sure you’re able to maintain the show throughout its run. Knowing about the show from so many different perspectives is a unique position to be in.
  5. I have the opportunity to travel and get to know new people. I discovered a desire for hiking and enjoying the outdoors thanks to a job in Colorado and I’ve made some great long distance friends through stage managing.

For those contemplating a career as a freelancer, do you have any advice you’d like to share?

Plan ahead! The first time I had six weeks off between shows felt incredibly long and I did not plan financially for that. I made it through, but it was more stressful than it should have been.